Virtual Northeast Aquatic Biologists Conference Reaches a Wider Audience

Posted on Monday, March 29th, 2021 | Posted in News

NEIWPCC’s annual Northeast Aquatic Biologists (NAB) Conference, our first virtual conference, drew more attendees from in and outside of the region than ever before.

The event was held over the course of four half-days on March 3, 5, 9, and 11. NAB registrants could choose from 20 live sessions to attend and 25 pre-recorded presentations to explore, on topics such as biomonitoring, chloride, cyanobacteria, lake monitoring, and restoration.

Scientist prepares field equipment on a river.

Every year, the Northeast Aquatic Biologists Conference serves as a platform for environmental officials and other practitioners to share and discuss current and emerging research topics. In that respect, 2021’s event was no different. However, the way in which the conference was delivered opened up new opportunities, according to Maryann Dugan, NEIWPCC environmental analyst. Dugan coordinates the annual conference as well as NEIWPCC’s Northeast Aquatic Biologists Work Group for state and EPA scientists.

Dugan said the convenience of NAB’s virtual format was reflected by a high number of attendees, totaling 237, from inside and outside the NEIWPCC region. There were 173 professionals from New England and New York’s public sector, private sector, and academia who joined the conference—more than the 140 or so total attendees in 2020.

Although the conference is marketed as a regional event, more than a quarter of the attendees tuned in from other parts of the country, and even internationally.

Scientists from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation were able to attend for the first time because they didn’t have to travel for the conference. “They talked about how they were excited to finally ‘infiltrate the Northeast,” said Dugan.

Featured speakers included Tim Martin, a long-term monitoring data analyst with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who presented on water quality trends in the state’s sentinel lakes, including increasing surface temperatures in these water bodies.

The virtual format allowed for participation from Martyn Kelly, a leading ecologist in the United Kingdom, who presented as part of a plenary session comparing biomonitoring practices and standards in the U.S. and the U.K. “It would have been difficult to fly Kelly here if this was an in-person event,” said Dugan. “Attendees responded positively and seemed to really love this session.”

Hand holds a turtle above river.

Dugan said engagement from academia was strong this year, including among student registrants.

Nicole Dahrouge, a graduate researcher at the University of Connecticut, presented her analysis of the effects of chloride contamination on vernal pool-dwelling wood frog tadpoles.

Jennifer Foote, a professor at Algoma University in Canada, had her aquatic biology class attend the conference. Ken Dynia, a student in Foote’s class, said, “I appreciated the opportunity to experience a conference and get a feel for the atmosphere before heading to Ontario Biology Days (OBD) to present my Environmental Science Honours thesis research. Presenting my own aquatic research at OBD was less intimidating after experiencing a virtual conference on the same platform.”

The conference also highlighted research from several NEIWPCC staff members.

Matthew Vaughan, technical coordinator for the Lake Champlain Basin Program, a NEIWPCC program partner, helped kick off NAB’s live sessions with a presentation on water quality data collection in Lake Champlain.

Megan Lung and Charles Stoll, environmental analysts supporting New York State Department of Environmental Conservation programs, recorded their presentations for on-demand viewing. Lung shared progress she and her colleagues have made on aquatic barrier removals in the Hudson River Estuary. Stoll shared his research showing increasing chloride concentrations in New York’s rivers and streams over the last 40 years.

Two people do handstands in the grass.

Although the virtual format allowed more practitioners to attend the conference, Dugan and their NAB planning committee tried to mimic the networking experience of an in-person event. They scheduled a student coffee hour and other mixers like trivia and photo contests throughout the four days.

“While the Virtual NAB Conference was largely a success, we hope to return to an in-person event for NAB 2022 in Portland, Maine,” Dugan said.

Registration is now open for another of NEIWPCC’s staple events, the annual Nonpoint Source Pollution Conference, which will be held virtually over the course of three days in May.

Scientists submitted the photos shown above for a contest during the conference.